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The Solitary Reaper -- William Wordsworth

(Poem #82) The Solitary Reaper
  Behold her, single in the field,
  Yon solitary Highland Lass!
  Reaping and singing by herself;
  Stop here, or gently pass!
  Alone she cuts and binds the grain,
  And sings a melancholy strain;
  O listen! for the Vale profound
  Is overflowing with the sound.

  No Nightingale did ever chaunt
  More welcome notes to weary bands
  Of travellers in some shady haunt,
  Among Arabian sands:
  A voice so thrilling ne'er was heard
  In spring-time from the Cuckoo-bird,
  Breaking the silence of the seas
  Among the farthest Hebrides.

  Will no one tell me what she sings?--
  Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
  For old, unhappy, far-off things,
  And battles long ago:
  Or is it some more humble lay,
  Familiar matter of to-day?
  Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
  That has been, and may be again?

  Whate'er the theme, the Maiden sang
  As if her song could have no ending;
  I saw her singing at her work,
  And o'er the sickle bending;--
  I listened, motionless and still;
  And, as I mounted up the hill
  The music in my heart I bore,
  Long after it was heard no more.
-- William Wordsworth
        (from Memorials of a Tour in Scotland, 1803)

Like many of Wordsworth's best and most memorable poems, this is a sort of
snapshot, a poem that strives to recapture a single instance in time and
space (compare, for instance, 'Daffodils' and 'Composed Upon Westminster
Bridge'). Unsurprising, actually, since it reflects Wordsworth's own
philosophy of poetry; i.e, that a poem should be a 'spontaneous overflow of
powerful feelings, recollected in tranquility'.

The poem itself needs little explanation, but note the memorable quality of
phrases like 'stop here, or gently pass', or the wonderful imagery of
'breaking the silence of the seas'. Note also the slightly unusual rhyme
scheme, ababccdd, which along with the short fourth line gives the poem a
nice rhythmic effect.


Coleridge, Wordsworth, and his sister had visited the Scottish Highlands
in 1803. In a note to early editions of the poem Wordsworth recorded his
indebtedness to a sentence in his friend Wilkinson's manuscript of his Tours
of the British Mountains: "Passed by a Female who was reaping alone; she
sang in Erse as she bended over her sickle, the sweetest human voice I ever
heard. Her strains were tenderly melancholy, and felt delicious long after
they were heard no more."
        -- Representative Poetry Online


48 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

michael lowe said...

The part of Scotland that Wordsworth was visiting was along the shores of Loch Voil in the area known as the Braes of Balquhidder, Perthshire. This valley is well known as the final resting place for the famous robber Rob Roy MacGregor.

nirakar neupane said...

This particular poem has touched me and has made perfect imagary in my brain since i read it In Ninth Standard . Nirakar Neupane. Vidyapunja Sec.School.Nepal

Kevin Straw said...

Why is the cuckoo-bird's sound compared to the lass's?
Is the cuckoo-bird's sound "thrilling"?
Are the Hebridean seas really silent?
Why are we in the Hebrides, and why in the "farthest"?
Was Wordsworth ever among Arabian sands?
Is Wordsworth himself "an old, unhappy, far-off thing"?

Kevin Straw

umesh prasad singh said...

Solitary reaper by Wordsworth is manifestation of natural art of traquillity and peace of Natural set-up.

Anonymous said...

Ive read this to myself a couple of times now, and i have to say, Worsworth seems to mirror my view of poetry as a momentary burst of emotion and thought. For me, writing poetry isnt something i do on command but, i write when my thoughts and feelings accumulate to a point that i need to let it out. Like Hemigway said, to be a good writer, you have to sit at typewriter and bleed....

gela camil said...

i love this poem very much,..this poem is a beautiful one as if it is trying to describe nature with an idea of a lonely girl singing alone harvesting and was singing about her past...

miranda genera said...

i love this poem very touched my heart so is one of my faviourite poem.a huge round of applause to mr.william wordsworth for presenting us this wonderful poem.

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An amazing poem.the song that touches the heart of the poet touches mine too.The imagery is spectacular.

profbsgoyal said...

Though the reaper is single, solitary and alone, she is framed by the picturesque beauty of Nature that gives energy to her song and enables her to surpass the sweetness of songs sung by nightingales and cuckoos.The entire valley is echoing her melodious song,sung in a thrilling voice.The poet can't hear or understand the words of her song which may be about her personal concerns or social events of great importance.It is, however, the quality of music that makes her song immortal and which the poet carries in his heart even when he leaves the scene. A poem that abides in our hearts for ever.

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Anonymous said...

This is the poem I reached out to introduce my 12 year old daughter to why poignancy of a past moment is more memorable over happy endings .. takes me back to my secondary school English class in a whiff back home in India ...

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mbam ifesinachi said...

what is the mood and the theme of this poem.

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